April 9, 2012

Dying for Love

Have you read "I'm Christian unless you're gay"?  If not, you can start with this

Dan Pearce published this in November at his blog "single dad laughing."  I just read it today.  There are a couple of outtakes that I want to highlight.  First this:

Why is it that so many incredible people who have certain struggles, problems, or their own beliefs of what is right and wrong feel so hated? Why do they feel so judged? Why do they feel so… loathed? What undeniable truth must we all eventually admit to ourselves when such is the case?

Now, I’m not religious. I’m also not gay. But I’ll tell you right now that I’ve sought out religion. I’ve looked for what I believe truth to be. For years I studied, trying to find “it”...

Sisters and brothers in Christ, this man, Mr. Pearce, is not a Christian, but "for years" he has been looking for the truth.  Do you know what he sees when he looks into our churches and our lives?  Hate.  He talks about Jesus having taught us to love, and he then goes on to draw equivalence between Jesus' teaching and that of the Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna, Rama, and traditional Judaism.  I solemnly believe that the Truth is the Truth, and I feel nothing but gratitude that the reality of God's love has been experienced and taught by all the world's major religious traditions.  But, Christians, we're supposed to do more, be more, than pointers to some old written teaching.

We are not supposed to be practicing religion. Christianity is not some set of rituals meant to appease an angry God.  It is what is true about the world.  Isn't that what we say when we "proclaim the Gospel"?  In the ancient world, where those words come from, the "gospel" was about the king.  "Caesar is king!"  That was the Roman gospel.  It was not something to believe or not believe.  It was a fact, the fact, of life.  We Christians say, despite all appearances to the contrary, "God is reigning as king through his Christ, Jesus."  Then, in theory, we live as if that were true.

And that's not all.

When I say, "I am a Christian.  I have been baptized into Christ.  I am dead to sin (that is, my old self) and alive in Christ" (Galatians 3:27, Romans 6:3-4, 11, among others) what does that mean?  What does it mean that I am "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, John 14:17, and others, but especially 1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19). 

What -- God help us -- does it mean when those of us who claim, by our baptism or membership in a church, to be incarnating the Spirit of Christ today, have only hatred and judgment to offer? 

We say we stand over and against "the world," with Christ, who came not to condemn but to save (John 3:17).  What would that look like if it were true?  

What would it look like if we Christians lived as if Christ were the King of creation and as if we were nothing but vehicles for His Spirit to do our living (2 Corinthians 4:7)?

I know, I know, there are a lot of people out there who want to say, "But this [behavior, belief, action, teaching] is wrong and God tells us what's right in His Word/Church."  I want to say that too.  Too often.  Here's what I know:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
It does not matter if I'm right or you're right or what God's Word or Law or Church say if we do not have love.  It doesn't make any difference.  It does not allow the proclamation of the Gospel or the incarnation of Christ through His church.  It only perpetuates the sin of the world, the same sin that sent Jesus to the cross.

Getting back for a moment to Mr. Pearce, he says:

I wish we didn’t all have to find ways that we’re better than others or more holy and saintly than others in order to feel better about our own messy selves. I wish people wouldn’t cluster entire groups of people together and declare the whole lot unworthy of any love and respect.

But that is the point of such thinking and action, isn’t it? I mean, it’s simpler that way. It makes it easier for us to justify our thoughts, words, and prejudices that way.

All these people become clumped together. And in the process, they all somehow become less than human.
They become unworthy of our love.

That final sentence, "They become unworthy of our love," makes me feel sick, because I know that that's the message that people hear from us so-called Christians.  They hear it on picket-lines.  They hear it on T.V.  They hear it from the pulpit.  They hear it over coffee.  Them and us.  It's still a big worthiness contest, and everybody loses.

And, incidentally, none of this has a single thing to do with what it looks like for Jesus to be King.  His Kingdom, which we fervently pray to come so that God's will might be done, is a big ol' feast for sinners, wayward sons, prostitutes, and tax collectors.  No bouncer at the door checking my worthiness card.  And it's a good thing for me.

I am not worthy.  I am blessed and gifted and, at the same time, a ruin of pride and laziness and judgment and self-pity and blame and selfishness.  So are you.

I am not worthy of the love of God in Christ, "But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

So, at long last, I lay down for us a challenge.  Mr. Pearce says this:

Find somebody, anybody, that’s different than you. Somebody that has made you feel ill-will or even [gulp...] hateful. Somebody whose life decisions have made you uncomfortable. Somebody who practices a different religion than you do. Somebody who has been lost to addiction. Somebody with a criminal past. Somebody who dresses “below” you. Somebody with disabilities. Somebody who lives an alternative lifestyle. Somebody without a home.

Somebody that you, until now, would always avoid, always look down on, and always be disgusted by.

Reach your arm out and put it around them.

And then, tell them they’re all right. Tell them they have a friend. Tell them you love them.

Amen, I say.

And, Christians, we know something more.  In order to love with the love of Christ, something has to die.  What is it in me that needs to die today so that my brother, my sister, might live?  What judgment, fear, resentment, self-righteousness has to go?  What will it cost me to offer love, life, to a woman or man of whom the world says, "You are unworthy"?  Christian love costs. And I believe that only, only when I am willing to pay -- with my own pride, dignity, need to be right, to be clean, to be safe -- only then am I loving with the love that is in Christ.

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